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Discover Abitibi project back on track: Geophysical airborne survey results expected by year's end. (Timmins: Special Report).

After lying dormant for most of the winter months as a result of administrative problems, a collaborative mining industry effort in Timmins and Kirkland Lake to search for new mineral deposits has resumed.

The $10-million Discover Abitibi exploration project was not only introduced to search for new deposits of copper, lead, zinc, gold and possibly diamonds buried thousands of metres below the surface of the Canadian Shield in northeastern Ontario, but also to search for new economic development opportunities to keep the industry sustainable.

Discover Abitibi was launched last winter as a community- and industry-driven approach to applying geoscience technologies for mineral exploration and development opportunities in the geological wonder that is the Abitibi Greenstone belt between Timmins and Kirkland Lake.

The initiative is now alive and kicking after some project management reshuffling over the winter related to conflicts between the original management group and the government funding agencies FedNor and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. - which had ground the process to a halt.

Though emphasis was made at the project's outset to utilize the latest in exploration equipment, Dan Gignac, Falconbridge's Kidd Creek mine manager and chairman of the project's management committee, says the project was not designed to be a scientific research and development field test for new technologies.

"The real focus, as far as I'm concerned, has got to be promoting economic development, not only spending money on exploration, but in areas that have the best chance of finding another ore body that we can turn into a mine and ultimately create spinoffs in direct employment and in the service sector," Gignac says.

"We don't want to do more science; we want to find ore bodies," says Gignac, in describing some of the management difficulties the industry and government players encountered.

Gignac says the core groups, which include prospectors, industry representatives and development officials, are dusting off and re-examining some of the dozen or so proposals put forward during planning sessions and preparing them to take forward to the funding agencies.

The lead funding agencies such as FedNor and the heritage fund are expected to pick up the bulk of the project's costs, while local stakeholders will contribute about 10 per cent through cash contributions and in-kind services.

In the course of their administrative "re-jig," as Gignac calls it, the group is the process of recruiting a program coordinator.

One component of the project, designed to rekindle some private-sector interest, a high-powered deep penetrating geophysical airborne survey, which took place during March, over some of the prospective properties in the Timmins area, including portions of the Falconbridge property near Kidd mine.

"Part of the conditions around the Discover Abitibi initiative was trying to get some third party interest and investment and Falconbridge participated up to $300,000 in this survey," Gignac says.

The results of the survey will be made public in July.

As the project enters a second, more technical phase, the working groups are expected to identify specific exploration targets and prepare a business plan to secure government funding, says Kathy Keast, a Timmins economic development officer. The Timmincs Economic Development Corp. is one of many development organizations spearheading the initiative.

"We'd like to continue to be one of the few mining regions in the world where you'll find diamonds, gold, base metals and industrial mineral properties all within the region," Keast says.

But whether a series of airborne and ground survey keeps the local mining industry alive for future generations, Gignac offers no guarantees.

And he makes no bones about the fact that the mining industry in one of the most prolific camps in Canada is in a sad state of health decline due to a declining resource base of known deposits and a significant drop-off in exploration investment dollars.

This program is simply designed to play catch-up and spur some private investment.

"The chances of finding another Kidd Creek or Dome mine - these are world class ore bodies - in this area are fairly remote," Gignac says. Most of their efforts will be concentrated on finding smaller satellite ore bodies, typically under 10 million tonnes, with shorter mining cycles, but with a higher ore grade than the larger mega-mines.

Gignac is convinced the Abitibi belt can be productive again, though most of the area's surface and near-surface deposits are expected to be mined out within the next decade, and going deeper with more powerful high-tech tools and government money is their only option.

"It's tough slogging up here," Gignac says. "There's very limited rock exposure and much of the bed rock is hidden under glacial till.

"We have to use sensitive and deep-penetrating geophysics to give us a little bit of an edge...to determine if this is something worthy of drill hole."

They hope to package the results of the entire survey by year's end and hopefully generate some momentum to keep the program ongoing for years.

And just maybe, some favourable early results may send a message to senior levels of government to introduce more tax breaks for the mining industry and create some creative exploration incentives with government aid, Gignac says.

"Right now it's not a healthy situation up here and we're not able to do this ourselves."
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:867
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